Bats are very extraordinary creatures. They are the only known flying mammal and one of only a few creatures on the planet to successfully use echolocation to hunt for their food. Bats are also hugely beneficial to humans in that they contribute to both pest control and pollination. The US Geological Survey estimates that bats save the US agricultural industry nearly $3 billion per year in pest management needs.
There is no doubt about it, bats are amazing contributors to society. However, it is important to remember that they are also one of the most well-known disease vectors out there. Here is a short list of some viruses that have been highly associated with differing bat species.
Rabies is probably the most well-known disease associated with bats, although it is very rare for them to actually have it. There are a number of other creatures that are known to carry the disease such as dogs, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. It is most commonly spread by being bitten by a rabid animal, although it is possible to get rabies if saliva from a rabid animal breaks the skin (including through eyes, nose, and mouth).
Without proper treatment, rabies is nearly always fatal. Luckily, a vaccination exists called post-exposure prophylaxis, PEP that can halt the symptoms of affected people so long as they seek treatment early. Roughly, 30,000 people per year in the United States alone get this vaccine after an animal bite.
Ebola was without a doubt the largest international healthcare crisis of 2014. Although it has recently fallen out of most major news cycles, it is still a serious problem in the African countries it has affected. The virus is thought to be spread by fruit bats inhabiting the forests of Western Africa that act as natural hosts.
Early symptoms of the virus include fever, muscle fatigue, jaundice, diarrhea, vomiting and are followed by more severe bleeding, drops in blood pressure, and organ failure. Unfortunately, a vaccine for the virus has yet to be produced.
Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever
Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever is closely related to the Ebola virus, in fact, they come from the same family. Like Ebola, the virus is spread by most commonly by fruit bats and is centered primarily in Africa. Some studies have linked it to a particular population of fruit bats located in the forests of Uganda.
The virus is only spread through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. Often times the disease symptoms take effect immediately and within a week patients usually have developed hemorrhagic manifestations. Nearly 90% of the people that contract Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever will not survive the encounter.
Nipah and Hendra are two separate viruses closely associated with flying foxes in Australia, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Africa. Nipah in particular has been known to infect domestic animals such as pigs as an intermediate host. Both viruses are known to cause both respiratory and neurological issues and there are not any vaccinations available to date.
Histoplasmosis is a fungus typically found in bat guano that has been known to cause severe respiratory problems when inhaled by people. Problems arising from contracting the disease are typically not life-threatening and are often treated with antifungal medication. However, in some scenarios infections can spread outside of the respiratory tract, in which case medical attention is needed.